Yasmin Radbod of Femme Fatale on H Street sums up her view of feminism succinctly: “action, not words.” Guided by this principle, Yasmin opened Femme Fatale: “the District's womyn-only collective of local creatives and small business owners” this past May.
When you walk into this space, there’s an awesome energy. The theme for the pop-up is Mother Nature, and creative life definitely fills the space. Music is playing and there are vibrant colors everywhere. Various artists and entrepreneurs line the store, talking and laughing with friends and customers. They’re selling clothes, makeup and body products, gently used books, hand-thrown pottery, carved and painted wooden art pieces, and sex-positive sex toys. And did I mention the vendors are all women? It’s rad.
Men are, of course, allowed and encouraged to shop and support. “There are a lot of men who walk by who will just poke their head in and you can tell they’re scared or intimidated, like, ‘What is this?’” Yasmin says, with a laugh. “Some men who know Femme Fatale from their friends who are women will be like, ‘Um, is it ok if I come inside? Is it ok if I take photos?’”
But this is by design. When Yasmin, a DMV native, moved back to the District two years ago, after working abroad at Umphiem Refugee Camp on the Thai-Burma border, she initially thought she wanted to pursue a career in music and she produced an EP. She sings, raps and plays several instruments, but she soon became disheartened: “Every bad deal or something that didn’t work out, it was always men sort of offering me scams or asking me to compromise my values for something that they wanted from me.” Yasmin said the final straw came when she received an email from a now-former security guard at the famed Rock & Roll Hotel who offered, “If you suck my dick, I’ll get you a show.”
Fed up and tired, Yasmin decided to plan an event that was just for women. In October 2016 she organized a fashion show with six local designers and called it Femme Fatale DC. No men were allowed, and the event was a huge success. Yasmin explained, “Women kept asking me, ‘When is the next one?’ and saying, like, ‘This is what I’ve been missing. This is what D.C. needs.”
After the fashion show, Yasmin continued holding two events per month. Then, in the winter, she began thinking about what having a store might look like; she set a goal of opening a place by her birthday, in May. After a whirlwind of site visits, pitches, calls for vendors, and vetting and meeting with each business, Femme Fatale’s doors opened in May.
The collective’s stated goal is to “foster and sustain our local community of womyn who support one another's creative and business endeavors.”
When I ask Yasmin what feminism means to her and how she weaves it into her work at Femme Fatale, she said, “I think that, like everything in life, your actions speak louder than words. So I don’t even really talk much about feminism.” She explained, “I see [my feminism] as transforming the local economy by having more local women-owned businesses that people are actually shopping from on a regular basis.”
A vegan and animal rights supporter, Yasmin describes her activism with Femme Fatale as one of many important different kinds of advocacy. “Sometimes our community is divided over petty shit that doesn’t actually matter,” Yasmin said of both veganism and feminism. “Ultimately, we don’t have to agree, maybe, on every single thing, but all together we are a force. All together, our angle is still the same thing.”
"Women kept asking me, 'When is the next one?' and saying, like, 'This is what I’ve been missing. This is what D.C. needs.'"
Femme Fatale is a force for women’s economic empowerment as well as cooperation. Yasmin explains, “It’s about also, myself included, educating one another and women-owned businesses that you can work together. You succeed when you work together. It’s not competition. And even more so when you have multiple options for people. Even if it’s one kind of item, different people like different versions of that. And that attracts people as well.”
Sadly, the Mother Nature pop-up had its last day the weekend I visited in July, but don’t worry, Yasmin has big plans. She’s currently fielding applications for their next pop-up, which will be open this fall through the holidays in a space not far from their H Street location. The theme will be, fittingly, Femme Fatale, which is an identity that speaks to Yasmin on a really personal level. To Yasmin, a proud “businesswomyn,” a femme fatal is “a fatal woman—so intelligent, smart that men are intimidated by her, so that’s what were going to embody in the fall.”
Femme Fatale has helped build a supportive community of empowered women entrepreneurs, and it’s also helped Yasmin articulate what she stands for and enabled her to act on her personal values.
She explains, “I think that I’ve become a professional and a businesswomyn and I’m not a girl. And I just really dislike using that term, you know. It really bothers me when, professionally, guys will say—while I’m sitting right next to them—will refer to me as a girl, and I’m like ‘We’re doing business together, and literally you’re paying me money for something, and you’re calling me a girl.’”
Closing out our discussion, Yasmin and I talked more about there being room for all kinds of feminists and all kinds of activists, and she said, “As long as you have the integrity and you feel good and you receive positive feedback, then you know you’re going in the right direction…The more options that women have to be a part of, the better.”
It’s clear Femme Fatale is headed in the right direction and opening up more amazing options for DC women, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Check the collective’s website for upcoming events, and keep an eye out for their pop-up, coming this fall.
Devon Haynes is co-editor of Women’s Wire Weekly, a newsletter for the feminists of DC.